5 Establish some kind of run game
Bryson, Pinner, Gary someone needs to step up for this contest. Oddly enough for as talented as the Panthers front seven is, they are only an average rush defense team, allowing 4.0 yards a carry. The main objective on offense should be to attack the Panthers under talented secondary, which is disguised by their incredible pass rush. To do this the Lions will need to back off the linebackers and make the defense play more conservative by running the football. Accomplishing this will be no easy task; Kris Jenkins and Brentson Buckner are very tough up the gut the key will be to run at the ends. Julius Peppers and Mike Rucker are great pass rushers, but they are marginal against the run. Bryson has the most speed and quickness of the backs, I would run some off tackles and counter action to the wide side and see if the ends will get sucked in. However the strategy, the objective must be to run the football consistently, and productively.
4- Turnovers & Field Position
The Carolina Panthers cough the ball up a lot, 27 giveaways this year so far, 14 interceptions and 13 fumbles. The Lions (or should I say Dre' Bly) have done a good job of creating turnovers and will need to win the turnover battle to have a shot Sunday. For an offense that cant move the ball consistently, getting them a shorter field will help a ton.
3-Stop the run
Maybe the biggest key to victory is whether of not Stephen Davis plays. If he doesnt, youd be a fool not to give the Lions a shot. The Lions rush defense isnt that bad, ranking 15th in the league. Making Delhomme win with his arm is the best possible situation if Davis plays, but if he doesnt; it will be up to Deshaun Foster taking over the reins. While Foster is no pushover, he isnt Stephen Davis. Whoever it is in the backfield, the Lions will need to shut em down, and make the inconsistent Delhomme win it for the Panthers.
2- Pass block
The Lions have let up the fewest sacks, however they will face perennial rushers Julius Peppers, and Mike Rucker, not to mention a big push up the middle this week. The key for the Panthers is pass rush, so their secondary doesnt get exposed. If the Lions can buy Harrington enough time to find an open receiver, the passing game could be surprisingly effective. Giving Mike McMahon playing time is certainly going to hurt the clubs chances of winning, because he cannot outrun these ends, and he gives up on passing too early. Thats the last thing they need. Whoever is at Q for the Lions will need poise, yes they are going to get hit a few times, but if the line can buy some time, the receivers will get open.
1- Discipline and Reads
The key to the Panthers run game is their blocking schemes. Not only do they have talented players on the line, but great strategy to go along with it. Their favorite blocking scheme has sprung Davis quite a few times and is very effective. Heres how it goes: the tailback runs a counter, or fake to one side, the whole line blocks down (toward the fake), then the weakside guard pulls to the hole, and the fullback kicks out. Why is this effective? For one thing it sucks the linebackers into the fake; Earl Holmes is very susceptible to doing this. Another thing it allows the tackles to get out and block the backers while the guard can lead through the hole and the fullback can get the end before he breaks up the play. The Panthers run this with excellent efficiency, and they keep teams off balance by running plays where the line actually does block down toward the angle of the play. Its very difficult to stay disciplined when youre facing a tough back like Davis, you always want that extra step on him, or get to the hole before he does. But the Lions front seven will need to stay focused and be aware of the counter actions and schemes this team runs. If they dont, then they will get a record -- one thats not wrapped and under the tree.